2011-04-21 / Front Page

Council hikes Fort Getty outlay

By Phil Zahodiakin

Fort Getty spending emerged as a big winner during a work session held on April 14 by the Jamestown Town Council. The Council, which discussed only the town side of the budget during its one-hour meeting, will vote on the entire town-andschool budget for fiscal year 2011-12 at its next regular meeting on Monday, April 25.

The budget adopted during the Council’s upcoming meeting will be put before the voters at the Financial Town Meeting on July 6. The April 14 work session didn’t result in any major changes to the annual line items in the spending plan proposed last month except for one: increasing the set-aside for Fort Getty projects to $100,000.

In his March budget proposal, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser proposed to set aside $50,000 for the Fort Getty Improvement Fund. He upped his request to $75,000 in the amended budget proposal discussed at the work session and the councilors decided to add another $25,000.

Prior to the work session, the town’s property tax rate was proposed to increase from $9.11 per thousand to $9.20. The increase is necessary to fund a 1.45 percent increase in the town-andschool budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

By adding another $50,000 in capital spending, which increases the total budget proposal to $21.17 million, the tax rate would have to go up another two cents to $9.22 per thousand.

The councilors also agreed to fund an entirely new set-aside: $40,000 for potential legal fees to fight the liquefied natural gas terminal proposed by Hessowned Weaver’s Cove Energy. Councilor Bob Bowen formally proposed the set-aside, which would not increase the tax rate because it would be drawn from the town’s undesignated fund balance.

“We’re hearing that the [environmental impact statement] is about to come out,” Bowen said, “and I would like to set aside money for a potential legal battle against Hess and Weaver’s Cove.”

Dick Lynn, vice chairman of the town’s Committee on LNG Threat, said his panel “understands that there is a strong possibility that the [environmental impact statement] will be issued this year. In anticipation of that, we believe that the Town Council would want to be ready to address the [environmental impact statement] if it doesn’t go in our favor. As a result, the threat Committee would like to request a transfer of $40,000 from the undesignated fund balance to engage in potential legal proceedings.”

Lynn noted that, once adopted by the Council, the setaside would have to be offered as a warrant at the Financial Town Meeting. That is because Jamestown’s Town Charter requires any withdrawal from that account to be approved by the town’s voters.

Councilor Ellen Winsor said that Fall River’s municipal attorney, Steve Torres, and outside attorney Dianne Phillips — who are jointly leading the city’s multi-million dollar fight against the LNG terminal — have informed her that “Save the Bay is accumulating a legal defense fund and planning a fund-raising initiative in coordination with the Coalition for Responsible Siting of LNG Facilities to fund legal maneuvers.”

Winsor failed to interest any of the other councilors in joining or supporting other efforts to accumulate a war chest.

Bowen said that “any and all actions [against the LNG proposal] are a good thing, and the potential impacts on our town warrants putting up a little money to fight this terminal. If we don’t need the money it would just go back in our [undesignated] fund balance.”

Winsor asked Lynn if, during the April 13 meeting of the Committee on LNG Threat, he identifi ed an attorney to represent the town in any future LNG litigation. Lynn said, “No.”

“We’d probably want to put that [$40,000] towards a specific attorney who has been helping with this issue for other towns,” Lynn said at the April 13 meeting, to which Committee Chairman Dan Wright said, “Specific attorney or not, we would need representation.”

Councilor Mike White noted that a former Jamestown town council had been asked to donate money for legal efforts against the LNG proposal, and Council President Mike Schnack, who was a member of that 2005 council, replied that the request was a non-starter.

“The attorney general of Rhode Island,” Schnack recalled, “wanted $25,000 [as the first payment in] an open-ended contract with some of his friends in Washington, so the council said, ‘Thanks but no thanks.’ But this is not some open-ended agreement.”

In other news, the councilors decided to leave in place the exemption from town taxation the first $6,000 of motor-vehicle value. Some Rhode Island towns, Keiser pointed out, eliminated their exemptions in response to the state decision to end its reimbursements of local taxes on that first $6,000. If Jamestown eliminated the exemption, residents whose vehicles were worth at least $6,000 would have to pay an additional $86 in annual motor vehicle taxes, but the councilors didn’t have any interest in taking that step.

The Council also agreed to set aside $9,000 for an emergency broadcast system which would immediately and automatically advise residents of any imminent emergency via the cell phone numbers or e-mail addresses provided to the town. Keiser said that $9,000 would pay for a toptier system and that he was looking into the features of systems with smaller price tags.

The councilors agreed to consider spending more money on a “green” replacement vehicle for the Jamestown Fire Department and asked Keiser to look into the cost of a hybrid-fueled SUV.

Finally, the councilors agreed to a budget amendment, which restores $50,000 to the town’s annual contribution towards affordable housing projects.

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